Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Cancel Anytime
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Canada’s most-awarded
newsroom for a reason
Stay informed for a
lot less, cancel anytime
“Exemplary reporting on
COVID-19” – Herman L
per week
for 24 weeks
Get full access to
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Having graduated from the University of Toronto's engineering program last year, Akash Chokshi now has a stack of books he's trying to sell. Costing $2500 when he bought them, he's sold a few but not many. Akash works as a power systems engineer for a consulting firm and was photographed in his Brampton, Ont home Aug 5 2011.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

When Akash Chokshi began his first semester of electrical engineering at the University of Toronto, he did what most of his peers did: After each new class, he went to the campus bookstore and parted ways with hundreds of dollars.

"When you're new to university, you want the book on the first day," he says. "You don't think about saving money."

But after realizing each semester would cost $500 to $600, Mr. Chokshi, now 25, knew he needed to shop around.

Story continues below advertisement

According to the Canadian Federation of Students, the average postsecondary student in Canada spends about $500 to $1,000 for textbooks and course materials each semester – with students in engineering and applied sciences usually hit the hardest – even in this day of the e-reader. (Canadian publishers have been trying to convince instructors to assign eBooks, but many still list the traditional versions on course outlines and direct students to on- and off-campus bookstores for purchase.)

While used bookstores have long been the go-to alternative to campus shops, the demand for cheap substitutes for brand-new texts has inspired innovative solutions among buyers and sellers alike.

Some students rent and some look online for deals, while others sell directly to their peers (whom they sometimes stalk outside lecture halls). Others turn to legally questionable means, which has prompted some publishers and retailers to adjust prices accordingly.

By his last year of school, Mr. Chokshi was paying a fraction of what he had in his first year for all his course materials.

His signature trick? Instead of getting a hardcover copy of one textbook at the university's book store for $150, he bought the soft-cover international version online from a depot in India for just $20.

Indeed, some of his classmates travelled to India in the summer and brought back suitcases full of these texts – often purchased for $5 a pop – and resold them to others. But the deal-seekers have to put up with the "Not for sale in North America" stamp on the cover.

While buying overseas editions saves students a bundle, the practice of importing those titles is technically illegal. According to the Copyright Act, publishers of non-Canadian books can designate an exclusive distributor for their books and prohibit all others from distributing the same title.

Story continues below advertisement

Distributors can also tack on an extra 10 to 15 per cent import tax to the cost of the book, which explains the difference between Canadian and U.S. prices.

There are other get-books-cheaper gambits.

Chris Tabor, general manager of Queen's University's bookstore in Kingston, says he embraces competition and even recommends used bookstores and online resources to students. What he's not a fan of, though, is the growing problem of producing and purchasing photocopied texts.

In January, the RCMP seized 2,700 counterfeit textbooks and arrested 13 people at various copy stores in Montreal. They estimated the illegally reproduced books were worth $545,000.

In reaction to the illegal trade of course materials, publishers are changing their ways. This year, the price point of most offerings from Pearson – a major textbook publisher – will be at par with U.S. prices.

But what students really want are downloads for tablets and e-readers, which, beyond being more portable than heavy textbooks, are much cheaper.

Story continues below advertisement

Sayeeda Hussain, a spokeswoman for McGraw-Hill Ryerson Canada, one of the country's biggest textbook publishers, says about 90 per cent of the company's books are available in digital format for the iPad, Kindle or Sony Reader. The price differences are steep: A traditional textbook that costs $125.95 would sell for $60 to $80 in digital format. While printed textbooks are still preferred by students in most disciplines, eBooks outsell their physical equivalents in the fields of accounting, management and hard sciences, Ms. Hussain says.

While Canadian publishers have been making the switch, Mr. Tabor says, they haven't all moved as quickly as their U.S. counterparts. The stumbling point is at the retail level, Ms. Hussain says. has a Kindle textbook rental program for its U.S. customers, but has yet to roll out the service here.

And students still prefer the tactile experience of using a physical textbook, Mr. Tabor says. "[They]tell us they will read from the physical book and study with the electronic book."

Roxanne Dubois, the national chairwoman of the Canadian Federation of Students, says the shift to digital textbooks may seem to lighten the financial load for students, but one must also factor in the price of a tablet or e-reader to access those materials. An iPad 2 will set a student back at least $519 before tax, while e-readers such as Kindle and Kobo still cost $300 and $140 respectively.

A more economical alternative for students who can't afford e-readers are rentals. Institutions including the University of Toronto, the University of Manitoba and the University of British Columbia now offer textbook rentals, and entrepreneurs have also entered the marketplace.

Story continues below advertisement

Ramona MacLeod launched Vancouver-based last year after balking at the price of new textbooks when she enrolled in classes a few years ago as a mature student. Her team takes care of the buying end (they snap up books from retailers Amazon and Indigo but also buy them from students on Craigslist) and then rents them to students online. Though she wouldn't release any financial information, she says it has taken time to convince students to consider the rental option.

"We as a society have been inculcated that what you do is you buy," she says.

Gershon Hurwitz co-founded a similar portal,, last year. The company has 11 depots in the Greater Toronto Area so customers can sell their gently used books, but distributes rentals nationally. In need of a copy of Robert Sunheimer's Clinical Laboratory Chemistry? Buy new for the list price of $101.85 or rent it for $68.04 and mail it back when the semester is over.

Getting rid of textbooks at a good price is the far greater challenge.

Professors usually insist students use only the latest edition of a textbook, which means many students aren't able to sell off their used ones because they've been knocked off the required reading list.

Mr. Chokshi suggests students sell their books as soon as the semester is over to get the most in exchange for them before the used bookstore shelves are flooded.

Story continues below advertisement

To stand out among the sea of similar texts, he also packaged his dog-eared class notes from the semester with the book he was selling and marketed it as a bonus.

"It just adds value to your sale – and for nothing," he says.

Another tactic he used was hovering outside the lecture hall of a course he'd taken the previous semester and making his sales pitch to students as they were exiting the class.

There's one almost surefire way of getting rid of old course materials, Mr. Chokshi says, but it's not one he was ever fond of: giving away a book to a peer free. "I haven't seen people borrow books from their friends," he says.

There's an underlying tension between debt-ridden students: "It's unfair on my part because I spent money on it," he says.

Comparison shopping:

Story continues below advertisement

School: University of Ottawa

School: University of British Columbia

School: Memorial University

Class: Political Anthropology

Class: Software Architecture

Class: Introduction to History, Part Two

Required Materials:

Required Materials:

Required Materials:

Political Anthropology: Power and Paradigms by Donald Kurtz, 2001 ($46.95 to buy, $30.54 to rent)

Software Architecture: Foundations, Theory and Practice by Richard N. Taylor, Nenad Medvidovic and Eric Dashofy, 2009 ($111.10 to buy, $54.37 to rent)

Heart of Darkness and Selections from the Congo Diary by Joseph Conrad, 1999 ($9.00 to buy, $4.03 to rent)

Tanners of Taiwan: Life Strategies and National Culture by Scott Simon, 2005 ($31.50 to buy, $17.50 to rent)

Beautiful Architecture by Diomidis Spinellis and Georgios Gousios, 2009 ($35.99 to buy, $20.42 to rent)

The Making of the West: Peoples and Cultures Volume II: Since 1500 by Lynn Hunt, Thomas R. Martin, Barbara H. Rosenwein, R. Po-Chia Hsia and Bonnie G. Smith, 2008 ($103.53 to buy, $61.22 to rent)

The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia by James Scott, 2010 ($16.62 to buy, $17.03 to rent)

Sources of The Making of the West: Peoples and Cultures. Volume II: Since 1500 by Katharine J. Lualdi, 2008 ($16.68 to buy, unavailable to rent)

Purchase prices from, rental prices from

Editor's note: A previous version of this story had an incorrect speling for Akash Chokshi. This version has been corrected.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Tickers mentioned in this story
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies